Signs of Abnormal Child Behavior

Children exhibit many variations in behavior. Some differences are related to age. A 2-year-old is likely to throw herself on the floor in a temper tantrum, but that sort of behavior in a 15-year old is not typical. When a child is repeatedly hostile, aggressive and disruptive or withdraws from normal social activity, it might be a matter for concern. If you have serious concerns about your child’s behavior, consult your pediatrician or family doctor.

Normal Development

Normal child development is a gradual process of acquiring increasingly complex behavioral, social and emotional skills and physical maturity, according to MedlinePlus. The toddler begins to speak in sentences, can run and throw a ball. She is quick to display her emotions and has little self-control. The school-age child is increasingly independent, begins to develop relationships with peers and might occasionally lie, cheat or steal in the process of testing parental boundaries. Changes related to puberty might begin as early as the age of 10. Teens continue to test parental boundaries in an increasing drive to become independent as they continue to acquire social and emotional maturity.


Although some children are loners who tend to be more comfortable on their own or are shyer than others, a child who is consistently withdrawn might have social fear or anxiety, according to a 2009 article in the “Annual Review of Psychology.” Withdrawal can increase the risk of emotional difficulties such as anxiety and low self-esteem. Children who are withdrawn might have difficulty with peer relationships and be subjected to rejection or victimization. Withdrawn children might also have difficulty in school and struggle to develop relationships with their teachers.

Behavior Problems

Although any child misbehaves occasionally and might develop temporary behavior problems from stress in the family such as a divorce or the birth of another child, behavior that is not appropriate for a child’s age can be a warning sign of something more serious. A child who is consistently hostile or aggressive for an extended period might have a behavioral disorder, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Other signs of behavioral disorders -- sometimes called disruptive behavior disorders -- include harming other people, property or pets, frequent lying or stealing, using drugs, drinking or engaging in early sexual activity. The AAP notes that some of these behaviors can also be a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


Autism is a brain disorder that affects about 1 of every 88 children, according to Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization. Children with autism have problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and have difficulties in social settings. They might also display repetitive behaviors. Some autistic children might be exceptionally gifted in music, math or art, although they might also have problems with motor coordination, difficulty paying attention and physical health issues. They often have atypical eating behaviors, abnormal sleep patterns and might injure themselves, according to a 2007 article in “Research in Developmental Disabilities.” Symptoms of autism often appear between 2 and 3 years of age, according to Autism Speaks.

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